Michael A. Covington    Michael A. Covington, Ph.D.
Books by Michael Covington
Consulting Services
Previous months
About this notebook
Search site or Web

Daily Notebook

Popular topics on this page:
Shutting down the government is wrong
Artificial airhead
IC 405, NGC 1893, IC 410
IC 417, NGC 1931, M36
IC 443
Comet 46P/Wirtanen
Many more...

This web site is protected by copyright law. Reusing pictures or text requires permission from the author.
For more topics, scroll down, press Ctrl-F to search the page, or check previous months.
For the latest edition of this page at any time, create a link to "www.covingtoninnovations.com/michael/blog"

If your browser labels this site "Not Secure," don't worry. You are not typing personal information here, so security is not needed. Click here for more explanation.


Nebulae in Auriga

On the evening of January 5, while I was coming down with the flu and didn't know it, I did a bit of astrophotography using the AT65EDQ 6.5-cm f/6.5 refractor, Canon 60Da body, and AVX mount (with PEC but without autoguiding). This is my quick-and-easy setup.

Here you see, at the upper right, the Flaming Star Nebula (IC 405) with the star AE Aurigae in the middle of it. That star was formed a long way away and is now just moving through this gas cloud. To the lower left is the star cluster NGC 1893, which is associated with the nebula IC 410.


Stack of 17 1-minute exposures.

Nearby, almost in the same field, are several other interesting objects. Here, from right to left, are the nebula IC 417, the small nebula NGC 1931, and the well-known star cluster M36.


Stack of twenty 1-minute exposures.

Nebulae in Gemini


The red object here is IC 443, the Jellyfish Nebula (it would look more like a jellyfish if you could see more of it), a supernova remnant in the same part of the sky as Eta Geminorum (at lower right) but not close to it physically or related to it. You can also see some reflection nebulosity around the star 12 Geminorum, near the top. This time my mount didn't track quite as well, and I used only 12 of the 20 exposures that I took. Otherwise same as the pictures above.

Comet Wirtanen retreats


The comet is farther away now, but, paradoxically, this may be my best picture of it, because now, it's moving across the sky slowly enough that I was able to stack ten 1-minute exposures (with half-minute gaps between them, spanning a total of 15 minutes). The comet is slightly smeared in a horizontal direction, but only slightly. The tail, such as it is, extends down and to the right. Same equipment and technique as the pictures above.

Artificial rudeness

The telephone just rang, and it was the rudest robocall I've ever received.

It sounded like a human being, perhaps one playing segments of a recorded pitch by pressing buttons. If no human was listening, I have no idea why they kept asking me questions. But there the madness only began.

The voice was a simulation of a chatty middle-aged woman. "Michael? This is (name) at Women's Cancer Fund. I was just calling to let you know we are mailing..."

But every time I opened my mouth (trying, of course, to interrupt and ask questions), they skipped to a different part of the chatty spiel. "Oh, I know it may not be the best of times, but we just..."

It was like a conversation with a rude person who was also insane.

Please, everyone, if you want to play a recorded pitch, do it honestly, and conceivably I might listen. If you use a computer to both deceive and be rude to me, I'll never trust anything you say.

I have no idea whether Women's Cancer Fund is a legitimate charity, and, if so, whether this was really them.

I was very careful never to say "Yes." I've heard of people recording a victim's voice saying "yes" and using it to fake a recording of them agreeing to buy something.


Shutting down the government is wrong

Shutting down the government (by refusing to fund it) is not a legitimate tactic of political negotiation. It is wrong for the same reason taking hostages is wrong: it harms people against whom neither side has any grievance. And we are in the middle of a shutdown now.

Shutdowns basically result from deadlocks within Congress; in this case, between the House of Representatives (Democrats) and the Senate (Republicans) over whether to build a "border wall" (variously defined). The Senate won't pass legislation to keep funding the government unless it includes something the House doesn't want to include. Meanwhile, parts of the government are shut down, payments are not being made, employees are either furloughed or commanded to work without pay, and at last report, the water bill for the White House hasn't been paid (hmmm...).

Unlike past shutdowns, which have lasted a few days, this one is vigorously advocated by the President, who threatens to keep it going for months.

Why does anyone think this is the right thing to do?

Does it fulfil the government's moral duty to its employees and contractors? No. That's why other businesses never try it. The nearest they come is that sometimes they have lockouts when their dispute is actually with the workers they are locking out.

Does it convince other potential employees and suppliers that the government is good to work for, and that they should seek jobs there or give it good deals? No. There are hidden costs associated with being an unreliable payer. This is Econ 101, not some controversial theory.

Does it convince the rest of the world that the American system of government is best? No. It makes us look like an unstable temporary regime that doesn't mind stomping on its own citizens.

Shutting down the government over a political dispute is just like taking hostages. "Because I can't get my way on the border wall, people I've never seen, against whom I have no grievance, are going to go without pay." That is not how a morally responsible person thinks or acts.

I would favor constitutional changes to make shutdowns much harder. It's probably not feasible to make them impossible, but we might say that all federal elected officials forfeit their salaries for 3 times the length of every shutdown, and all their benefits (such as health insurance) for the duration of the shutdown, and that the president cannot veto legislation that would end a shutdown. Those are just ideas; maybe we can come up with something better.


Within hours of getting Melody home on Saturday (Jan. 5), I came down with the flu. I should have known something was wrong when, during that evening's astronomy session, the temperature was 50 F but I felt as if I were in the Arctic. By midnight I was quite sick, and in spite of being vaccinated, I've had a 4-day bout with the flu, probably to be followed by several days of being mildly sick. But it's not as bad as the flu of 1978 or quite a few others. Maybe the vaccine attenuated it a little.


Melody and rhythm — the saga continues

Melody actually stayed in the hospital until today (January 5) for adjustment of medications to control heart rhythm. I spent much of my time sitting with her, often doing computer work. She's home now, with a steady heartbeat, and I'll write more Notebook entries later.

Three very short notes:

(1) Stellarium is a great piece of software, but version 0.18.3 has two bugs that impact astrophotographers. (1) For me, and for some users but not all, its field-of-view plug-in fails to display whether a Barlow lens is chosen. (2) The Windows installer, by default, has "Remove plug-ins' settings" checked, which will wipe out your file of telescopes, eyepieces, and cameras unless you uncheck it.

Windows users can simply download 0.18.2 and install over 0.18.3. Linux users can go into Synaptic Package Manager, remove "stellarium" and "stellarium-data", and then choose Package, Force Version, and choose version 0.18.0 for those packages. Install them and "lock version" (to prevent updates) and you're done. Interestingly, your settings (in "~/.stellarium") survive this whole process.

Then, if you do your updates with apt, as I do, what you should do is look in the directory /etc/apt/sources.list.d, find the Stellarium file, and delete it or move it elsewhere. Then sudo apt update and sudo apt upgrade will leave Stellarium alone. When all this blows over, you can restore the Stellarium file or regenerate it with the command:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:stellarium/stellarium-releases

UPDATE: The bugs are fixed in the latest beta version, Click here to get it.

(2) This government shutdown is nothing but a display of incompetence. Instead of debating what we need to build at the border, and reaching a working compromise, Congress and the President have turned it into a simple power struggle — either give Trump exactly what he wants, because he wants it, or be deadlocked. This is harming large numbers of innocent people against whom no one has any grievance, exactly as if they were hostages in a standoff. And it is convincing the rest of the world that the American government and the American way are not to be trusted. Cui bono?

(3) I implore you not to "pass along" or "copy and paste" anything on Facebook that you do not fully understand and endorse. You're putting it on the Internet with your own name on it, even if it's a soliciation from credit card thieves or scammers of some other kind.

I am dismayed at the number of people who will copy and paste "I tried this and it really worked" or "An attorney told us to do this" when they didn't try it and there was no attorney. Do they realize what this tells us about their personal honesty? Or ability to read?

If what you are looking for is not here, please look at previous months .